Personal Stories

Panorama of my Silence Heart

Sometimes a place can hold a specific marker in one’s life.  Sometimes a place was meant to be found and meant to be entered into.   Sometimes I wonder…do the places we occupy get created before we enter them or do we somehow create the places we are meant to occupy?

That’s what it felt like for me.  A tiny cafe in Queens, along a busy road, hidden in between a laundromat and a hair salon, seemed not to have existed before I found it…perhaps created just for me.  An outside observer walking past may not have even noticed the small, humble exterior, but a keen observer would have noted something different about the sky blue facade and the light stained glass windows.  Upon entering, one would have to notice something different about this blue and yellow cafe, from the women in colorful saris to the prayer flags to the pink roses in glass to the all-vegetarian menu.   It seemed oddly out of place in this asphalt Queens desert, cars streaming by and buses rumbling past.

I discovered The Panorama of my Silence-Heart cafe (yes, it’s called that) about a year into living in Briarwood, Queens.  Little did I know that this small cafe was going to become a second home the summer I had a deep personal healing open up and in the year after I quit my job and started a private practice.   Little did I know that it would hold space for so many of my emotional ups and downs in the span of two years.   I didn’t know much about the Indian guru Sri Chinmoy whose spiritual community had founded the cafe, but I soon got to know him well.   His image, art, and quotations were infused throughout the space.   It became almost impossible to separate the space from the man himself, who has passed on but continues to occupy its walls with his presence.

It was strangely more comforting for Sri Chinmoy to be holding space for the cafe from the beyond, somehow lending his image and legacy a bit more mystery and power.  Gurus or spiritual leaders still in the flesh tend to have the unfortunate aspect of being all too human and all too flawed.  His silent presence in the cafe seemed to give it an air of protection and potency that may not have existed had he been walking along its floors.  But then again, I’ve never met the man. 

Sometimes a place itself becomes like a person…a person beyond the person who created it or beyond the people who occupy it.   This cafe became like an intimate partner for two years of my life, watching and holding space for my most sad, lost, and worried moments, as well as my most joyful, lively, and creative selves.  This space has seen me at my best and worst and has been the best kind of partner: never judging, never prying, yet ever-present.  Each emotion, thought, and creative impulse seemed to land with just the right amount softness and inquisitiveness.  The space seemed to speak at times, as if to say, “You are more than you think you are.”

I redesigned my website in this cafe.  I wrote blog posts.  I began writing a book.  I had conversations with friends who ventured in from other cities or the faraway land of Manhattan.   I drank fresh green tea.  I cried silently to myself.   I sat elated, saving the world in my mind.  I stared at the bookshelf lost in thought, drawn to titles on nutrition, spirituality, and self-development.   I ate so many omelettes with homemade pesto and fresh greens.  I listened to many songs.  I wrote for many hours.   

I found myself here.   I found my voice here.   I gave these walls my trauma.  I demanded my life force back.  I spoke to the Universe silently, asking questions of its mysteries, sometimes with deep, empty silence, sometimes with whispers in response.  I sat cross legged at the low table, the one in the back, reveling in the simple pleasure of sipping a smoothie through a straw and burrowing into a pile of pillows.  

It’s hard to leave places.  It’s even harder to leave places that have become a part of your story, that have weaved themselves into your development.  One summer in the middle of some particularly intense spiritual experiences, I found this place.  I grounded my energy here.  This place saw me through the next two years of some intense personal and spiritual development.  It allowed a deepening in my life.  It was both a portal to distant places in my psyche and a landing pad to come back.  

As I move on and leave Queens for Westchester, I recognize that I am leaving more than just a place behind, I am leaving behind a specific time in my life.  And there’s nothing that can properly capture that or mark that.  We are here one day and somewhere else the next.  But just the fact that we have been here, that we have lived through these moments, marked by these places that we have occupied has to leave something behind.  These chairs will not telegraph my having been here.  The ladies behind the counter will eventually forget my regular order.  But something of this time will remain.  And something of me will remain in this space.  I’ll be that ethereal presence, crying and laughing silently, writing and singing to myself, still traveling through that portal, holding it open for those who need to find themselves too.

Career Calling, Personal Stories

The Achievement Wheel

The achievement wheel is a treasured American institution.  We are groomed early on in a structured education system to strive for that golden place of success defined by titles and prestige, our own small piece of the American dream.  As the 2010 documentary “Race to Nowhere” points out, these pressured expectations have been produced and reinforced by the culture at large, from colleges to parents to workplaces, and these messages get internalized by kids from a young age.  Many of us continue on this treadmill of achievement and expectations long after we have left grammar school and grades behind…

And I was no exception.

After perfecting my high school educational manifesto and making my way through an Ivy League college degree, the next obvious step for me seemed to be the world of cubicles and commuting.  When I took my first job in 2006 as an entry-level publicist at a corporate book publishing company in New York City, I thought I had made it.

And I had…in a way.

Continue reading “The Achievement Wheel”

Personal Stories, Spirituality

How Spirituality Found Me (a former skeptic)

I’ve contemplated writing about my spiritual awakening experience for a while now, but it has never quite felt like the right time.   Words aren’t always adequate to capture an experience that’s both deeply personal and is best understood as a felt, embodied sense rather than something that can be described and analyzed.  But I am going to try my best because it feels important to begin sharing how my own path has included twists and turns for those who may have had their own interesting, unexplainable experiences.

I grew up within the Catholic religion, experiencing all the prescribed milestones throughout my childhood: Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation.   I even had the opportunity to visit the Vatican and see the pope from afar in my teens. While I always appreciated the rich tradition that Catholicism provided, beautiful religious art and architecture especially, as I grew into my late teens and early 20’s I began to look at religion as a cultural signpost, a representation of my heritage, rather than as a spiritual tradition.   I recognized that religion did provide spiritual support for many and good moral foundations, but it had never fully connected the dots for me and the dogma didn’t seem to fit my developing sense of self-autonomy.  And so I left it at that….without the drive to explore further, I labeled myself as agnostic in my young adulthood and visited Church only on holidays.

Science and research became another “religion” of sorts for me in my late 20’s as I entered graduate school for psychology.  It seemed to provide solidity in a way that was comforting, in a way that I could get behind.  There was a prescribed sequence of inquiry, analysis, and data that research provided.  My analytical left brain found satisfaction and excitement in finding new ways to explore the world of human nature through reading, citing, and conducting research.  I felt like I had a greater understanding of the world, a foundation from which to base my decisions, actions, and worldview.  And I did….but little did I know, as I entered my final year of graduate school, that things were about to get a whole lot less linear.

Continue reading “How Spirituality Found Me (a former skeptic)”

Emotional Healing, Inspirational Figures, Personal Stories

“Sensitive is Just How I was Made”

 

In a vulnerable talk about her bulimia, alcoholism, and drug abuse, Glennon Doyle Melton teaches the joy and strength in removing our public masks to express our emotions and finally feel all the difficult human stuff we tend to push down by wearing our daily superhero “capes.”   Children know how to express their emotions from a very young age, crying and raging easily, but we tend to find ways around this expression as adults as it becomes less and less acceptable to feel and embody the messiness of life.  Sensitive souls, especially, may find themselves mired in addiction, or chronic pain, or medication.  Truth, vulnerability, and authenticity are the keys to beginning a healing process.  Glennon leads the way…

Inspirational Figures, Personal Stories

Lessons from Beyond the Rainbow

Judy GarlandToday, on the anniversary of Judy Garland’s famously attended funeral in New York City, along with the NYC Gay Pride parade this weekend, it seemed like an appropriate time to devote a blog post to this icon.  She is a deeply beloved figure both within the gay community and to children and adults around the world who have landed upon her classic film, the Wizard of Oz.  I was one of those kids, awed and fascinated by the innocent and beautiful Dorothy in the blue dress.  The Wizard of Oz played on repeat in my home, as I fawned over her voice, her sparkly red shoes, and her metaphorical journey back home. 

As beloved and talented as she was, she was also a tragic figure, dying at the early age of 47 from an accidental barbiturate overdose, with a long string of failed marriages behind her and a history of childhood abuse by studio executives.  As loved as she was, she never could quite seem to muster that same love for herself.  She picked herself up by the bootstraps many a time, only to fall back into the same patterns of addiction and difficult men. Continue reading “Lessons from Beyond the Rainbow”

Emotional Healing, General, Personal Stories

Psychologists can struggle too…

In the realm of psychology, it is not often that you hear of therapists or professionals admitting to their own struggles and emotional ups and downs.  We are supposed to be the models of emotional well-being, after all.  Well, guess what, we’re human too, with all sorts of messy stories and imperfections.  I think the greatest gift a therapist or any healer can give to others is the openness to be themselves and share that story, especially since healing from setbacks can be one of the greatest gifts to building oneself as a well-rounded and empathetic practitioner.  Continue reading “Psychologists can struggle too…”